Bruce Schneier recently posted another entry on Google China’s well-known censorship of Tiananmen pictures (tanks on Google.com, happy flowers on Goggle.cn). You may need to use the explicit language settings listed in the comments to get these results.
What’s really interesting, however, is a link in the comment section to this research paper by Jonathan Zittrain and Benjamin Edelman at Harvard Law School. They analyzed Google results for America, France & Germany and found that 65 sites were removed from Google.de, plus another 48 sites missing from Google.fr. Most sites are about white supremacy, holocaust denial etc. but some are apparently blocked by accident. They include a reference to the blocked sites and accept submissions for new entries.
I’m in Beijing right now and according to my experience, the reports of the effects of Google censorship are significantly exaggerated. More than half the time, I do not get the censored results reported in blogs et al. When I search Google.cm for ‘free tibet’, for example, I get Tibet independence sites, not the govermental cites reported in the recent slate article.
Even where I do get censored results, the censorship is often ineffectual. A search for “human rights watch” does indeed not produce the HRW homepage (www.hrw.org.). But it does produce mirrors of that page. Interestingly, the HRW homepage is blocked in China, so a HRW.org listing is useless here. But some of the mirrors are not. Google’s censorship actually helps me access info that I would not be able to access otherwise.
In addition, I can avoid the Google censor entirely simply by searching through Google’s toolbar.
All this makes me wonder if Google’s censorship is more devious than it is effective. Did Google perhaps intentionally leave in a lot of back doors (like the googlebar search)?
Nope, google.cn will accept both English and Chinese inquiries (hence the observation that intentional mispelling can be used to avoid the China-specific search filters). My inputs were in English (but were spelled correctly). Virtually all of the comments I have seen about Google.cn filtering cite English language searches as examples.
My experience is also that most Chinese of high school education or higher who are computer literate enough to access and use the internet (oops, sorry, the Internet) have English language ability sufficient to allow them to initiate English language searches on most topics.
When searching on Google.cn, there’s two levels of censorship. One is Google.cn’s own filter, which is supposed to limit your search results. Like I mentioned above, sometimes that works, but sometimes it doesn’t, in my experience.
The second level censor is what is sometimes refered to as “the Great Chinese Firewall.” This is imposed by the Chinese themselves at the server level. Unlike Google.cn, it is consistent and comprehensive.
Thus, for example, if I do a search for “Internet” and “capitalization” on Google.cn., one of the first returns I get is wikipedia. Google.cn does not filter wikipedia entries from its search engine. But, because wikipedia’s entry for Taiwan does not suggest that Taiwan is an integral part of China, the Chinese goverment has directed Chinese servers to install software that blocks access to wikipedia sites. Therefore, if I click on the Google.cn link to wikipedia, I get a ‘site not found’ error.